Power to the tower


Whether you’re visiting Schiphol or just passing through, you can’t miss the air traffic control tower. This 101-metre-tall building is a real eye-catcher. But what actually goes on inside this fascinating tower?

Air traffic controllers
The air traffic controllers from Air Traffic Control the Netherlands (LVNL) work near the top of the tower, at around 90 metres. They guide all air traffic within a 15-kilometre radius around Schiphol. They tell the pilots where and when they can take off and land, and how to taxi, so it’s important for them to have a good overview. That’s why the tower has large windows which give them a 360-degree view of the airport. Luckily, there are also radar screens they can rely on when visibility is poor. These screens also display all the flight information for the flight services the air traffic controllers are guiding, from the airline and tail number of the aircraft to its altitude, speed and route.

Total concentration
The air traffic controllers’ work is rather complicated. They need to be aware of everything that happens at the airport, monitor all the aircraft currently in the air and respond to weather conditions. If something unexpected happens, they need to be able to assess the potential consequences as quickly as possible and ensure that pilots follow their instructions. That requires great concentration, so air traffic controllers have to take a compulsory half-hour break every 2 hours and 20 minutes. After their break, they are able to fully focus on their work again.

Behind the scenes, the air traffic controllers’ workspaces are currently undergoing a dramatic makeover. The number of workspaces is being increased from 9 to 15, and each workspace is being fitted with the latest technological innovations. Luckily, the air traffic controllers can continue working while the alterations are being carried out, as the renovation work on the main tower is done at night while the controllers work in the back-up tower. The transformed air traffic control tower will be completed in May.

Traffic at the gates
The gate planners and apron controllers work on the floor below the air traffic controllers. They ensure that all the traffic at the gates is managed properly. This includes pushback tractors, buses transporting travellers to the terminal, tankers, catering vehicles and cars used by the bird control unit. All these vehicles need to be at the right place at the right time.

A second air traffic control tower
In addition to the large, well-known air traffic control tower known as the central tower, Schiphol also has a smaller air traffic control tower near to Runway 18R-36L, referred to as the west tower. As Runway 18R-36L is too far away from the main air traffic control tower, air traffic controllers work in the west tower when this runway is being used.